Long before they can lose themselves in a virtual world on an iPad, school-age boys should become immersed in fabulous and fantastical books. Books inspire a child in a way no electronic device ever can. They become part of who he is and influence his perception of the people and the world around him.
Take the Harry Potter series for example. Every single one of the seven books has plenty of life lessons for the kids to take away — from understanding that it’s OK to make mistakes and how important it is to always pay attention in school (for the HP kids, it was truly a matter of life and death!) to learning to use your voice and stand up to both your enemies and your friends.
From classics like Treasure Island to contemporary faves like Spirit Animals, these 50 books should be on the must-read list of every young reader. Did your childhood favorite make the list?
A version of this article was originally published in November 2015.
‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer’
Author Mark Twain based The Adventures of Tom Sawyer on recollections of his own young life along the Mississippi River. Ages 13 and up.
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, $7.95 at Barnes & Noble
‘The Boy in the Striped Pajamas’
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas takes place in 1942 Berlin and tells the story of young Bruno as he moves with his family to a desolate new home. There, Bruno befriends a boy his own age, whose life is so very different from his own. By John Boyne, for ages 12 and up.
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, $8.99 at Amazon
‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’
The Diary of a Wimpy Kid series features hilarious, comics-style tales about "wimpy" middle schooler Greg Heffley. By Jeff Kinney, for ages 11 and up.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid, $13.95 at Target
‘The Phantom Tollbooth’
Thanks to The Phantom Tollbooth, kids get to imagine what they might do if a mysterious booth suddenly showed up in the bedroom. By Norton Juster, for ages 8-12.
The Phantom Tollbooth, $7.99 at Amazon
Arguably the best pirate book ever written, Treasure Island tells the exciting story of the brave Jim Hawkins and a one-legged tough guy named Long John Silver. By Robert Louis Stevenson, ages 9-12.
Treasure Island, $3.19 at Amazon
The I Survived series lets readers immerse themselves in some of history's most dramatic events, from 1937's Hindenburg Disaster to 2011's Japanese tsunami. Powerful (and educational) stuff for ages 8 and up.
I Survived the Sinking of the Titanic, 1912, $4.49 at Amazon
Geronimo Stilton is a talking mouse who works as a journalist at a New York City newspaper. His job takes him on wonderful journeys where he encounters other characters from a variety of cultures. The books contain no violence, weapons, vulgarity, rude words or deviant behavior. By Elisabetta Dami, for ages 6-12.
Geronimo Stilton, $6.99 at Geronimo Stilton
R.L. Stine penned 62 Goosebumps books from 1992 to 1997. Twenty years later, the fictional horror stories are just as enticing as they were back then. Ages 9-16.
Goosebumps, $6.99 at Scholastic
Maniac Magee follows the story of Jeffrey Magee, who became an orphan at age 3. Unloved by his strict guardians, he runs away to a town divided by race. Paying no mind to racial boundaries, he soon becomes the legendary "Maniac Magee" thanks to his physical prowess and amazing athletic feats. By Jerry Spinelli, for ages 9 and up.
Maniac Magee, $5.59 at Amazon
Wonderstruck features two stories: The first, written all in text, features a deaf boy named Ben who goes looking for his father after his mother is killed. The second, told with pictures, is about a girl — also deaf — named Rose. The end brings the stories together in this must-read favorite. By Brian Selznick, for ages 9 and up.
Wonderstruck, $20.99 at Scholastic
‘A Long Way from Chicago’
A Long Way from Chicago is about Joey and Mary Alice, two Chicago city kids who are sent to spend a summer at their grandmother's house. At first the kids balk at the idea of spending so much time in such a tiny, sleepy town, but they quickly find themselves delighted by Grandmother's wild and crazy antics. By Richard Peck, for ages 9 and up.
A Long Way from Chicago, $5.43 at Amazon
‘Where the Red Fern Grows’
Where the Red Fern Grows is an emotional read. All Billy Colman wants is a coonhound pup, and he's thrilled to end up with two. Billy teaches his dogs to tree raccoons, and they become a champion hunting team. But there's more to this story… By Wilson Rawls, for ages 8 and up.
Where the Red Fern Grows, $7.25 at Amazon
Artemis Fowl may be just 12 years old, but he's also a criminal mastermind. In his quest to find the Fairy Holy Book, Artemis kidnaps a fairy and demands an enormous ransom for her. You'll have to read this Eoin Colfer book to find out what happens next. Ages 9 and up.
Artemis Fowl, $6.29 at Amazon
‘A to Z Mysteries’
There are 26 letters in the alphabet, 26 books in this series and 26 mysteries to solve! Ron Roy wrote A to Z Mysteries for ages 9-11.
A to Z Mysteries, $114.30 at Amazon
‘The Neverending Story’
The Neverending Story is about Bastian Balthazar Bux, a boy who is neglected by a father and bullied by his peers. When Bastian hides from his enemies in an antique bookstore, he finds himself transported to the land of Fantastica. There, he joins a boy warrior and embarks upon the adventure of a lifetime. Ages 8 and up.
The Neverending Story, $7.19 at Amazon
‘The Book of Three’
The Book of Three tells the tale of Taran, who is responsible for taking care of a magical white pig called Hen Wen. When his charge flees, Taran and his hero, a knight — along with their furry friend, Gurgi — venture into the forbidden forest to find the pig. By Lloyd Alexander, for ages 10 and up.
The Book of Three, $4.98 at Amazon
‘The Mysterious Benedict Society’
The Mysterious Benedict Society accepts only the best and brightest children. Those who make it in must overcome tasks that become increasingly more difficult, and they learn to rely on one another for support. Will their next test tear apart their newfound friendships? Ages 10-13.
The Mysterious Benedict Society, $6.99 at Amazon
‘Bridge to Terabithia’
Terabithia is the world invented by outcasts Jess and Leslie. The Bridge to Terabithia is a rope that swings over a creek to this perfect getaway in the forest. When tragedy strikes, Jess's world is turned upside down… What will happen to Terabithia now? By Katherine Paterson, for ages 9 and up.
Bridge to Terabithia, $6.99 at Amazon
‘The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane’
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane follows the unfortunate journey of a vain china rabbit who is separated from the little girl who cherishes him. The challenges he faces in her absence help him come to terms with the selfish rabbit he's been. By Kate DiCamillo, for ages 9-12.
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane, $4.33 at Barnes & Noble
‘Bud, Not Buddy’
Bud, Not Buddy is about a 10-year-old boy who encounters vampires and monsters on his quest to find his father. By Christopher Paul Curtis, for ages 9 and up.
Bud, Not Buddy, $6.39 at Amazon
‘The Lost Hero’
The Lost Hero is the first book in the The Heroes of Olympus series. Readers meet Jason, Piper and Leo, demigods who must learn more about their mythological history to take control of their confusing lives. By Rick Riordan, for ages 9 and up.
The Lost Hero, $7.99 at Barnes & Noble
‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is the beloved story of the poor boy who finds one of five golden tickets in a chocolate bar. With that ticket, Charlie gains entry into Willy Wonka's mysterious and fabulous Chocolate Factory — and the rest is history. By Roald Dahl, for ages 8 and up.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, $6.99 at Target
‘The Lightning Thief’
The Lightning Thief is the first YA novel by Rick Riordan. At Camp Half-Blood, 12-year-old Percy Jackson learns that he is half god, half human, and his father is Poseidon, brother of Zeus. Percy and his companions find themselves on a cross-country adventure to prevent a war between the powerful brothers. Ages 10 and up.
The Lightning Thief, $4.99 at Amazon
‘Dragon Slayers’ Academy’
The New Kid at School is the first in the Dragon Slayers' Academy series. Poor Wiglaf hopes to become a hero, but his stint at the Dragon Slayers' Academy gets off to a rocky start when he discovers he can't handle the sight of blood.
Dragon Slayers' Academy, $4.79 at Amazon
The Hobbit is the cherished prequel to The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Hobbit Bilbo Baggins is forced out of The Shire and into an adventure created by Gandolf the wizard. Baggins breaks free of the hobbit's homebody nature and fully embraces his unexpected adventure. By J. R. R. Tolkien, for ages 9 and up.
The Hobbit, $14.43 at Barnes & Noble
El Deafo is based on author Cece Bell's own experience with deafness. The book's characters are bunnies… big-eared bunnies with excellent hearing. Ages 8-12.
El Deafo, $7.65 at Amazon
Frindle, a word invented by 10-year-old Nick Allen for a research project, causes an all-out battle between the boy and his teacher, Mrs. Granger. By Andrew Clements, for ages 9 and up.
Frindle, $5.64 at Amazon
‘The Graveyard Book’
In The Graveyard Book, "Nobody" is a toddler whose family was murdered by "Jack." The little one escapes to a graveyard, where he is raised by ghosts. As Jack continues to hunt him, Nobody must learn to fight back. By Neil Gaiman, for ages 7 and up.
The Graveyard Book, $3.58 at Amazon
At age 12, Jonas is assigned a job based on his abilities. As the new and highly respected Receiver of Memories, he becomes privy to life before his era of Sameness. The Giver is the wise old man who passes along to Jonas the secrets of a life with passion, love and family connections. By Lois Lowry, for ages 12 and up.
The Giver, $8.99 at Amazon
When 13-year-old Brian Robeson's plane crashes in the Canadian wilderness, he is left alone with nothing but a Hatchet. By Gary Paulsen, for ages 13 and up.
Hatchet, $6.99 at Scholastic
Thanks to a curse by his great-great-grandfather, Stanley Yelnats finds himself serving time at the Green Lake juvenile detention camp for a crime he didn't commit. As punishment, the boys are forced to dig large Holes in the dirt. Little do they know what they're digging for… Written by Louis Sachar, for kids ages 10 and up.
Holes, $7.99 at Barnes & Noble
‘The Boxcar Children’
The Boxcar Children — orphans Jessie, Violet, Benny and Henry — take shelter in an abandoned boxcar to prevent their being separated. And the adventures begin… Written by Gertrude Chandler Warner, for ages 7 and up.
The Boxcar Children, $5.49 at Amazon
‘The World According to Humphrey’
Have you ever wondered what the world looks like to a hamster? The World According to Humphrey gives readers just that perspective. Humphrey is the class pet of Room 26. He spends each weekend with a different student and learns to read, write and shoot rubber bands in the process. So why does it seem like the teacher is out to get him? Ages 7-11.
The World According to Humphrey, $11.19 at Amazon
‘The Bad Beginning’
The Bad Beginning is the first in Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events. Violet, Klaus and Sunny Baudelaire are orphans who are forced to live with their wicked uncle, aka Count Olaf. By Daniel Handler, for ages 10 and up.
The Bad Beginning, $7.19 at Amazon
Life is interesting and strange for Stuart Little, an orphan mouse who is taken in by a human family. By E. B. White, for ages 6-10.
Stuart Little, $7.48 at Barnes & Noble
Willy, his grandfather and a dog named Searchlight. When Willy enters the National Dogsled Contest to win money, he faces the legendary competitor Stone Fox. By John Reynolds Gardiner, for ages 8-11.
Stone Fox, $4.93 at Amazon
‘The Strange Case of Origami Yoda’
Author Tom Angleberger drew his inspiration for the Origami Yoda books from artist Fumiaki Kawahata (and from Star Wars too). Ages 8-12.
The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, $5.55 at Amazon
Young Marty finds Shiloh in the hills of West Virginia and immediately becomes attached to the dog. He's soon forced to turn Shiloh over to his original owner, a known dog abuser by the name of Judd Travers. Shiloh makes his way back to Marty, who does everything he can to protect the dog from Judd. By Phyllis Reynolds Naylor, for ages 8 and up.
Shiloh, $6.98 at Amazon
‘My Weird School’
The My Weird School books, from Miss Daisy is Crazy to Ms. Krup Cracks Me Up, are a child's delight. The students find themselves constantly amused by the faculty and administration, and young readers will devour each book in record time. By Dan Gutman, for ages 6-10.
My Weird School, $52.97 at Amazon
‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis is a classic. The first in The Chronicles of Narnia series, this book tells the tale of siblings who are sent to live with a professor during the war. The children discover a wardrobe that leads them to a new land, Narnia; a wonderful lion, Aslan; and a cruel ruler, The White Witch. For ages 8 and up.
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, $6.29 at Amazon
‘James and the Giant Peach’
James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl brings us the adventures of 4-year-old James Henry Trotter, whose mother and father were swallowed by a rhinoceros. More tragedies follow until (to make a long story short) James accidentally grows a giant peach. Is this the way to rescue his parents? By Roald Dahl, for ages 8 and up.
James and the Giant Peach, $6.39 at Amazon
There are seven fabulous books in the Harry Potter series. Harry, "the boy who lived," is the ultimate underdog. Readers support him — and his sidekicks Ron, Hermione and Hagrid — as he battles Voldemort and all the evil that surrounds him. Written by J. K. Rowling, for ages 6 and up.
Harry Potter series, $52.16 at Amazon
‘The Invention of Hugo Cabret’
The Invention of Hugo Cabret is about an orphan who desperately wants to finish his late father's work creating a complex robot. Hugo is convinced this human-like robot will be able to send him messages from his father. The problem is that the boy is stealing parts from his friend Isabelle's godfather — and things are about to get complicated. By Brian Selznick, for ages 8 and up.
The Invention of Hugo Cabret, $10.57 at Amazon
The Borrowers are tiny people who live under the floorboards of a "big people" house. When 14-year-old Arrietty befriends one of the big people, the Borrowers worry that their existence will be revealed. By Mary Norton, for ages 8 and up.
The Borrowers, $5.64 at Walmart
While their parents are on vacation, Seth and Kendra stay with their grandfather, whose home is surrounded by a forest full of mythical creatures. Despite warnings to avoid the forest, Seth captures a fairy and upsets the alliance the fairies had with Grandfather, who in turn is kidnapped. And the battle begins. Fablehaven was written by Brandon Mull, for ages 8 and up.
Fablehaven, $7.62 at Walmart
‘The Wind in the Willows’
In The Wind in the Willows, a mole and a water rat enjoy daily adventures on a boat, saving their toad friend from weasels and ferrets and searching the Wild Woods for an elusive badger. By Kenneth Grahame, for ages 7 and up.
The Wind in the Willows, $9.95 at Target
‘The Call of the Wild’
This classic takes place during the Klondike Gold Rush. A dog named Buck is forced to shed his domesticated ways and rely on primordial instincts. The Call of the Wild was written by Jack London, for ages 12-14.
The Call of the Wild, $4.08 at Walmart
‘Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing’
Anyone who's ever wanted a little brother will change her mind after reading Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing. By Judy Blume, for ages 8-10.
Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing, $6 at Amazon
Wild Born by Brandon Mull is the first in the Spirit Animals series of books. In the world of Erdas, children go through a coming-of-age ritual to determine whether or not they have a spirit animal, which bestows on them great powers. Ages 8-12.
Spirit Animals, $6.89 at Amazon
August "Auggie" Pullman was born with a facial deformity. He's about to start fifth grade at Beecher Prep — it's the first time he's ever attended a mainstream school. Being the new kid is always difficult, and it's even worse when you look so different. Will he ever fit in? Wonder is by R.J. Palacio, for ages 8-12.
Wonder, $11.25 at Amazon
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